Fights, profanity move fifth-graders inside for recess

Westbrook Middle School fifth-graders now have indoor recess due to fighting and vulgarity taking place on the playground.

WESTBROOK — Fifth-grade recess has temporarily been moved indoors due to daily fights that turn physical, along with vulgar language. 

Westbrook Middle School Principal Laurie Wood on April 3 notified parents of all fifth-grade students about the issue. Outdoor recess will resume after April vacation week. 

“Taking away the opportunity to play outside was a last resort; however, it was becoming clear to us that students were being physically and emotionally hurt by the behaviors that were happening at recess,” Wood said in a letter to parents.

Wood on Monday said recess was becoming “too rowdy and too uncomfortable.” Most of the fights and profanity were on the basketball court, she said.

“Some of these kids are more competitive than others and it’s leading to hurt feelings,” she said.

None of the fights or language issues were based in hate or discrimination, Wood said. 

Individual students have been punished for their behavior, but that wasn’t stopping kids from repeating the behavior, Wood said. 

“It wasn’t calming down the way we wanted it to,” she said.

Recess is now being held in the school gymnasium, with some kids being allowed to spend their break in the school lobby or library. Moving recess indoors has allowed the staff to keep a closer eye on students, Wood said.

“(Outdoors) is a little bit more geography to keep an eye on,” she said. “(Indoors) is a more contained space, which is easier to manage.”

According to Wood, there are 198 students in fifth grade, all of whom have recess at the same time. She said there are typically four or five staff members overseeing recess, and additional staff may be added when recess moves back outdoors.

Wood said when students were informed of the move to indoor recess, many weren’t happy.

“They have reacted fairly predictably,” she said. “They were disappointed.”

Wood said she’s received emails about the issue from only a few parents, most of whom were inquiring about whether recess was canceled. She said only one parent said they were upset with the decision.

James Tranchemontagne said he isn’t pleased with how the school is handling the situation.

“I would have liked to have heard about this a month ago and seen the school reach out to parents for help and to be notified for the safety of our children,” he said. “Their letter seems to come as a shock.”

Tranchemontagne said it’s not fair that all students are forced to have indoor recess instead of only the students misbehaving. He also said it’s concerning that the school staff can’t control kids on the playground better.

“I truly see deep problems at that school and don’t feel there is much leadership,” he said.

Wood said all students have been moved to indoor recess so they can work together to correct the behavior by using “restorative school practices.” During indoor recess, staff members have been pulling small groups of students out for “community circles.” These give students the opportunity to discuss ways to make recess more enjoyable and safe.

Wood said students have suggested changing the rules for basketball so that teams are assigned rather than picked by other students. They have suggested creating a rotation system so more students get the chance to play. 

Students have also asked the school to provide more playground toys like jump ropes and sidewalk chalk, and also add a four square court. 

Wood said the circles have given students the opportunity to hear from each other about what’s bothering them. It also allows them to work together to problem solve.

“The goal is to teach them these skills,” she said. “We’ve realized they don’t have the skills to manage this unstructured play time.”

Wood said the hope is that holding community circles will result in a more positive recess experience and will give the students a bigger sense of responsibility.

“It gives them a voice instead of us doing it for them,” she said. “We wanted to reshape the experience for them.”

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

Westbrook Middle School fifth-graders now have indoor recess due to fighting and vulgarity taking place on the playground.